It seemed to drag on a bit longer than it should have, but today the Los Angeles Clippers informed Vinny Del Negro that they would not renew his expiring contract, parting ways with the coach after three years. Del Negro departs as one of only two head coaches in franchise history to compile a winning record with the team.
To some extent, Del Negro was a victim of heightened expectations. The Clippers advanced to the second round of the NBA Playoffs last season, and as such their first round exit this season was a major disappointment. That disappointment was only heightened by the fact that the team had just experienced the most successful regular season in franchise history, a season that included a 17 game winning streak and the best record in the league two months into the season. Ultimately, Del Negro got more blame for failing to maintain that high level of play than credit for establishing the level in the first place.
And yet this is the correct course of action, assuming the Clippers make an informed and serious choice for his successor. Assuming that free agent Chris Paul signs a maximum deal with the club this summer (the only reasonable assumption to make and the premise under which the front office must operate) the Clippers are entering a five year window with Paul and Blake Griffin in place as major cornerstones. Any team with two superstars in their prime has a chance to compete for a title, if other factors fall into place. One of those factors is coaching, and Del Negro was not the coach to get them there.
Who will the next coach be? Will the Clippers actually upgrade from Del Negro, or will they miss this opportunity by making a poor choice? The field of marquee candidates got a little thinner today when former Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy announced that he would not return to the sidelines for at least one more season.
Among the coaching candidates that have been linked to the Clippers are former Nets and Hornets head coach Byron Scott, current Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins (his contract is up after this season) and Warriors assistant
Brendan Michael Malone. Rest assured that the interests and wishes of Paul will be a major consideration in this process. Scott coached Paul in New Orleans, and Malone was an assistant there. Paul is close with both of them.
There are no obvious home runs on the coaching market right now, at least not any that are definitely available and interested. Phil Jackson is not walking through Donald Sterling's door. Jerry Sloan, once of the winningest NBA coaches of all time, recently interviewed for the vacant Milwaukee Bucks job, but eliminated himself as a candidate because he didn't feel it was the right fit for him. Might he feel differently about the Clippers? Sloan had a little success in Utah with a great point guard/power forward tandem -- but he's also a bit of a throw back in today's NBA and might not mesh well with a younger generation of players.
There are many questions yet to be answered, but all we really know for now is that Del Negro will not be back, and that the search is on for his replacement.